Distance Learning, Disrupted Learning & Social Eruptions

24. Reading of large novels in uncensored form was a grim escapism as I waded through the morass of COVID-19. But if tracking that global disaster was an odd escape, balancing the somewhat uncertain position of the place of the individual to the world to the redrawing of the community. The scope of the past tragedy seemed at times potentially and terrifyingly close–and not only because of the graphic depiction of state repression or public corrosion. Perhaps this is because World War II is nothing less than an actor in the two books of an extended family, of soldiers and physicists and military and political strategems, which tracesthe fate of the families in wartime in almost philosophical terms; it made me consider the pathogen SARS-CoV-2 as an actor, far more sweeping in its impacts than SARS, of the global impact imagined SARS would have, but in a stress on social ties.

Global change was of course long in the air in the Bush administration, when the school closure policy was framed. In 2002-3, SARS was poised to become global, if contraction of 300 infections in the southern hemisphere–and nearly two thousand in Hong Kong–was feared to spread beyond Canada, and broadly in the United States: the SARS pandemic prompted retrospective questioning of haste in declaring a global emergency by criticizing WHO”s messaging of global alerts that triggered undue panic of the risk of infections multiplying, R0, unwarranted claims of dangers of infection by airborne droplet diffusion, and coordinating state and global health agencies. COVID-19 was not only more infections but moved by airborne contagion in ways that are still being assessed, and alarmingly “spatiotemporally heterogeneous” in its spread by airline routes, in crowded hospitals, ventilation systems of old age homes, and crowded prisons, whose seeding provided hopes for tracking infections, but raised questions of chances of reinfection, that led to increased disorientation to the stability of judging its progress. The spread of COVID-19 may recall how epidemiological experts wondered if we ever saw SARS in full force, or if SARS-CoV-2 is the full force spread of what was limited in global spread–

“Worldwide SARS cases Contained by Global Alerts,” Nature (July 2003) Soure: WHO

Even if China came under for fire for a lack of transparency with the health problem it faced in the viral outbreak, as all countries-save Taiwan, whose population paid the consequences, created dedicated public health offices, the outbreaks were contained. But if the SARS outbreak was contained by global alerts, and avid responses, and new cases declined as all contracting the virus were quarantined, the absence of central agencies on COVID-19 in the United States is such that we fear future waves of increased intensity, as was feared for SARS, whose threatened global expansion sent out multiple shock waves. Donald Trump emerged as a prominent Obama heckler on Twitter during the Ebola outbreak, honing isolationism in railing all flights should be suspended from Africa, he deferred the urgency of a coordinated public health office for testing that left many coming to terms with scattershot mitigation strategies: most were aspiration, but the closures of schools as a way states enforced social distancing–as several private schools whose students had been infected by COVID-19 closed, evident global discontinuities of contagion raised increasing fears, we fell back on existing playbooks of containment on the books while seeking a strategy adequate to the virulence of a virus more readily communicated in droplet form.

Besides tragic footage of empty classrooms, shuttered schools from La Jolla to Kansas to New York, FOX contributors promised the “silver lining” that “school closures should prompt states to pay parents to educate their kids in other ways,” by “freeing up existing education dollars to be more nimble,” in ways that followed the tortured logic that “coronavirus school closures” were not deriving from policy decisions and in-place priorities that had devalued the community school, but that the pandemic would “free” not only monies, but allow families to follow “learning options” of their own choice, as if they were always waiting to shun the goods public schooling offered them that perhaps were just waiting for a plague of biblical scale to wash them all away, and allow a national cleansing of educational policy and priorities, as if offering space to re-evaluate ill-considered policy. The neoliberal position of structuring dismantling wold force both families to reconsider education options and government to rethink education policy, the FOX contributor hoped as confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States approach two million in late April, as infections inundated the world- although, thanks to the Web Mercator projection, showed massive areas of Greenland (whose land-size the projection famously exaggerates), arctic Canada, Siberia, and Antarctica, appear to show many places infection free, as well as much of Central Asia, where infections were not tallied–and perish in tallying infections by sovereignty, as if they were linked to policy.

In comparison, the 2002-3 spread of SARS brought less than 300 cases of documented infections in the Southern Hemisphere, apparently containing 1755 in Hong Kong; the outbreak led to scepticism announcing a pandemic warranted such global reaction. But it alerted us to the lack of preparation in our public health systems, which were shown, once more, to be even more woefully ill-prepared in 2020, when the lack of any public response led to a failure of containment even as hopes of containment persisted, out of a combined disinformation and lack of preparation and understaffing and lack of equipment, and an absence of any centralized testing sites.

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Filed under Coronavirus, COVID-19, education policies, remote learning, school closures

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